Farms Finest: Educate yourselves, consumers
February 9, 2014
Sometimes we find ourselves doing things we feel we need to do because it provides substance and meaning. For me, this is writing about food and agriculture. There also can be career decisions that will tug at the corners of the fabric we are made of. Last month was one of those moments for me as I went to work in the commercial airline industry.
As a firmly grounded farm girl, having an office now in a jet brings about many polar opposites. One biggie is in food choices that are now freely available to me. For four years I have been immersed in the near-pristine Roaring Fork Valley, working in it, consuming it and writing about the food in it.
What a shock it is to see what is being marketed as "food" around the country. I find myself foraging through an industrial-food jungle where it's difficult to make healthy food choices. For the fast-food industry, even the healthiest travelers will often give in and spend money for an instant food fix while on the run.
The posers are lurking everywhere, and marketing schemes that imply "fresh off the farm" remain far from the truth. I have gained lots of fresh fuel to write about why we need to continually raise our level of food awareness overall. I hope many will reflect on how valuable it is to build and maintain a strong local food system. The Roaring Fork Valley is a fine example of this for all.
During the past few weeks, there have been some important changes made in agriculture that must be noted. The Agriculture Bill (also known as the "farm bill") was passed. This is a complicated issue not unlike most government-made policy. It is important to try to understand this bill because it affects the food we eat, the availability of food and the price we end up paying for it.
The farm bill started after the Great Depression as a well-intentioned effort to assist farmers. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the first farm bill in 1933, and about every five years it is reviewed with a new version passed. Over time, the web of words grew and became more convoluted. Non-farmers started feeding at the now bloated $97 billion trough, and money was being diverted down what most consider absurd pathways.
A few features of this bill include food stamps, price protection that sets a target price for crops, insurance for crop-loss protection, dairy laws on how much dairy a farmer can produce and direct payment to farmers in financial hardship.
The new bill revisions included the reduction of $90 a month for the nearly 850,000 people who have been using food stamps. It has ended direct subsidies for farmers and has changed the labeling of meat products so you now know where it came from and where it was processed.
There is now more risk exposure for the government in crop-insurance programs by offering lower insurance costs and higher payout levels. This is good for farmers but riskier for the government if disaster hits (for example, the drought in California). Members of Congress can own farmland and call themselves farmers, as well, thus participating in receiving this benefit.
A requirement for a disclosure of the above was conveniently dropped again. This lack of transparency gives the public no way to know where the money is flowing.
The farm bill also decides what crops to encourage farmers to grow. As a result, these crops become what you eat. The bill continues to promote industrial row crops (GMO central) like wheat, soy and corn, the king of all. From cattle feed to soda, sweetener corn has found itself a long-term career firmly hooked into our diets.
A few more crops have now been added, such as sushi rice. As a farmer, if I have that guaranteed market price, I might now consider growing this variety of rice. As a marketer, I have a new product to begin promoting, and as a consumer I will probably be putting it into my grocery cart.
The homespun bill has many dark corners to look into and try to understand, though. If there are to be positive changes made in the future of our food system, it will be because we continue to learn how this bill is affecting our grocery dollars and diet. We, as consumers, still have the greatest power of all in making educated food choices.
Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, visit http://www.farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at email@example.com.